The leader of the political party that currently represents the opposition in New Brunswick is calling on the government to form a bipartisan committee on shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the emerging Frederick Brook Shale.

Victor Boudreau, interim leader of the Liberal party, also derided Premier David Alward and the Progressive Conservative party for their handling of the shale gas debate, which has escalated in recent months to include protests, vandalism and threats of violence.

"We are hopelessly unprepared for shale gas development," Boudreau said Friday. "The government has not engaged the public. [Instead] it has chosen to ignore the people who have shown up outside this legislature on several occasions and outside the Centennial Building in large numbers," (see Shale Daily, Aug. 15; June 24).

Boudreau proposed that the government create a bipartisan special committee on shale gas development and hold a series of public hearings. He did not specify how many lawmakers should sit on the committee or how many public hearings should be held.

"[We are] calling for full public participation in developing legislation that leads to new and stronger regulation of the shale gas industry," Boudreau said. "These rules can't be cooked up in the back rooms by the government and by industry lobbyists. New Brunswickers must be involved in the process. Let them determine how -- or if -- we can move forward with shale gas development."

Boudreau also mentioned a recent incident involving a contractor of Windsor Energy Corp. as evidence that oil and gas companies should not be given free rein over the regulatory process (see Shale Daily, Nov. 15). In that incident -- which is under investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) -- Seismotion Inc. entered the Town of Sussex on Oct. 17 and began performing geophysical testing before getting approval from the town council, a violation of the province's Oil and Natural Gas Act.

"The incident in Sussex a few weeks ago proves that we are far from [strong regulations]," Boudreau said. "We can perhaps thank Windsor Energy for exposing this problem. Since the company has already owned up to its actions, the only reason for [having the RCMP investigate] is so [Alward] and [Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup] can avoid answering embarrassing questions."

Alward reportedly responded that Boudreau and the Liberals had no room to comment on the issue because of the actions of former Premier Shawn Graham, one of their party members.

"Talk about the depth of hypocrisy," Alward said, according to the Times & Transcript. "This is coming from a member of the government that actually brought shale gas exploration [into the province and] said in its platform not only that it supported the shale gas industry in New Brunswick but also that it would expedite the process of development."

Alward indicated that he did not support the idea of creating a shale gas committee. "We are very focused as a government on getting the information out to the people, and that is why we are reaching out to New Brunswickers through many means," Alward said, adding that the government was already conducting town hall meetings and had a website providing the public with information on fracking. "We're doing a lot of work right now and people have ample opportunity to be engaged."

Boudreau also repeated the Liberal party's demand for a moratorium on fracking in the province.

"Before industry can be allowed to proceed, our regulations must be rock solid and the proper enforcement tools need to be in place to make these companies abide by the law," Boudreau said. "Before that happens, absolutely no exploration should be able to continue. The risk is simply too great."

A political scientist recently warned that Alward and the Progressive Conservatives could be turned out of office over the shale gas issue (see Shale Daily, Sept. 2). Despite this, Alward and Northrup have refused to enact a moratorium on fracking.